Monthly Triathlon Training Advice
Riding your first cycle sportive this summer? Here's the gear you'll need...
You don't need to become a tech-boffin in order to enjoy cycle sportives, but you do need to spend your money wisely.
Let's start with the bike. Unless you want to make life hard, you'll need a road bike, rather than a mountain bike or even a hybrid. They don't come cheap though. Spend above £500 and you'll get something comfortable and reliable. Spend £1000 and it'll be light and fast too. Above this price point, the benefits rapidly diminish per pound you spend.
Borrowing or hiring a bike is another option, but whatever you do, be beware of the importance of good bike fitting. You wouldn't run a marathon in someone else's ill-fitting shoes right? The same applies to cycling. For this reason, seek an independent bike fitting (at a reputable shop) or at least spend time researching how to measure it yourself. Don't let a shop sell or hire you a bike that doesn't fit you, just because it's the last one they have in stock. It happens.
Your bike must also have the appropriate gearing for the terrain you wish to cycle on. This is dictated by the number of teeth you have on your sprockets (connected to your rear wheel) and chain rings (near your pedals). It'll be expensive to have these changed later, so ask your shop for advice and help in the first instance.
If you do decide to buy a bike, do your homework first. Magazines like Cycling Plus and websites such as BikeRadar.com have hundreds of up to date reviews and comparisons to help you seek out the best value for money.
The same applies for kit. During a ride, you're particularly susceptible to changes in weather and wind-chill. The key is layering, as it gives you various mid-ride options. Warning: This may mean wearing some Lycra (eek!). For regular summer cycling you'll need padded bib-shorts, a cycling jersey with pockets, separate arm-warmers, a thin Gilet (like a tank top with a zip!) and fingerless cycling mitts. Then you can unpeel the layers if you get hot, and store them in your pockets. You'll also need a helmet, cycling glasses (to deflect flies and grit), spare inner tubes, a mini pump, tyre levers, money and a mobile phone. Quite a lot of stuff eh?!
So before you buy any clothing, make sure you try it on and choose the most comfortable and best fitting. It needs to be breathable and it shouldn't rub. With cycling you're better off buying right and buying once. Expense doesn't always guarantee performance either.
The simple tricks that could help you train more efficiently...
Back in the 1990’s world champion triathletes like Paula Newby-Fraser and Mark Allen were dominating the sport, using heart rate for all their key sessions. Six-time World Champion Allen even said: “During my 15 years of racing in the sport of triathlons I searched for those few golden tools that would allow me to maximize my training time and come up with the race results I envisioned. At the top of that list was heart rate training.”
Heart rate training enables you to focus in on different training intensities. For Allen this meant training for several months at a time below 155 beats per minute, to develop his ability to use fat as a fuel. To begin training like this, you need to establish a set of personal heart rate training zones. Here's how:
Step 1. Work out your resting heart rate
- Lie down and relax for twenty minutes, in a quiet room
- Have a clock or watch in clear view, that measures seconds and minutes
- Count your heart beats for one minute, with your finger on a pulse, or with your hand over your heart
- Avoid caffeine on the day
Step 2. Work out your maximum heart rate
Find a good hill that takes you about two minutes to run up. The test begins around five minutes before the hill. Gradually accelerate towards the hill achieving around 85% effort at the base of the hill. As you hit the hill, maintain your speed by increasing your effort. Your heart rate will rise and you will quickly tire. Without falling over, keep an eye on your monitor and make a mental note of your highest heart rate as you work towards the top of the hill.
Step 3. The Benefit of Each Zone
Once you’ve worked out your resting and maximum heart rates, you can divide your heart rates into personalised training zones.
Zone 1: Recovery Zone - 60% to 70% of max HR. Useful for encouraging blood flow, to aid recovery after a tough workout
Zone 2: Aerobic Zone - 70% to 80% of max HR. Training in this zone will boost your endurance and the efficiency with which you use fat and carbohydrates as fuel.
Zone 3: Anaerobic Zone - 80% to 90% of max HR. Training in this zone is thought to enable you to delay fatigue caused by lactic acid.
Zone 4: Maximal Zone - 90% to 100% of max HR. Training in this zone is only possible for short periods, and helps you develop top-end speed.
Step 4: Making the calculation
Step 1: Subtract your resting HR from your maximum HR, giving you a ‘working heart rate‘.
Step 2: Calculate 60 and 70% of your 'working heart rate'.
Step 3: Add these two figures to your resting heart rate, and hey presto you’ve worked out your Zone 1 heart rate range (known as the recovery range).
Step 4: Do the same for Zones 2, 3 and 4 (using the percentages in "The Benefits of Each Zone" (see above) and you’re there.
Balancing comfort with aerodynamics can be a challenge. Here's why...
With cycling, you shouldn’t accept discomfort as being normal. The chances are it will get worse over time, rather than better. The problem for many triathletes is that they race on road bikes, which are designed for group riding such as you see in the Tour De France. These bikes aren’t designed to be used in a low profile triathlon position. They are meant for riding in a more upright position with your hands on the bar-tops or brake hoods.
It’s hard to get comfortable and aerodynamic when you’re doing a triathlon on a road bike, especially with tri-bars attached. You can normally achieve one without the other. Striving for aerodynamics means you end up bending too much from the waist as you attempt to get down low on your tri-bars. It’s no wonder your knees hit your chest. Your best bet is to raise your handlebars higher. This will probably increase your power output and allow you to get your head lower. At this point it might also be an idea to get your position re-checked (we recommend Retul bike fitters), as raising the handlebars can have knock on effects on your seat position.
Better yet you could invest in a triathlon specific bike. A triathlon bike, also known as a TT bike, is designed for riding solo against the clock. People associate these bikes with aerodynamic tubing and sexy carbon wheels, but the one thing that makes these bikes really fast is their geometry. Unlike road bikes, the frame angles of a triathlon bike are designed for riding with tri-bars. So when you’re in a low tri-bar position, your knees won’t be hitting your chest. In effect, they allow you to be aerodynamic, whilst giving you the comfort to apply plenty of power to the pedals.
The main thing to consider with a triathlon bike is the seat-tube angle. The seat-tube is the part of the frame where the seat-post attaches. Road bikes have a seat-tube angle of around 72 or 73 degrees, whereas triathlon specific bikes have a more vertical angle of around 76 degrees. This steeper geometry rolls your whole body forwards, saving you from bending too much at the waist.
If a triathlon bike doesn’t solve your issues, the next option is a custom made frame. Triathletes come in a multitude of shapes and sizes, and so it follows that standard sized bikes aren’t for everyone. After a lengthy fitting process, you’ll have a bike where every tube is cut to fit your exact proportions. The bike is built around the position you want to ride in, rather than the other way around. For some people custom is the only option, but it’s worth investigating cheaper alternatives first.
The Serious Training Blog
Train Smart. Race Fast.
Phil Mosley is a triathlon coach and writer.